The last generation of bacterial growth in limiting nutrient

Anat Bren, Yuval Hart, Erez Dekel, Daniel Koster, Uri Alon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Background: Bacterial growth as a function of nutrients has been studied for decades, but is still not fully understood. In particular, the growth laws under dynamically changing environments have been difficult to explore, because of the rapidly changing conditions. Here, we address this challenge by means of a robotic assay and measure bacterial growth rate, promoter activity and substrate level at high temporal resolution across the entire growth curve in batch culture. As a model system, we study E. coli growing under nitrogen or carbon limitation, and explore the dynamics in the last generation of growth where nutrient levels can drop rapidly.Results: We find that growth stops abruptly under limiting nitrogen or carbon, but slows gradually when nutrients are not limiting. By measuring growth rate at a 3 min time resolution, and inferring the instantaneous substrate level, s, we find that the reduction in growth rate μ under nutrient limitation follows Monod's law, μ = μ0 s/ks+s. By following promoter activity of different genes we found that the abrupt stop of growth under nitrogen or carbon limitation is accompanied by a pulse-like up-regulation of the expression of genes in the relevant nutrient assimilation pathways. We further find that sharp stop of growth is conditional on the presence of regulatory proteins in the assimilation pathway.Conclusions: The observed sharp stop of growth accompanied by a pulsed expression of assimilation genes allows bacteria to compensate for the drop in nutrients, suggesting a strategy used by the cells to prolong exponential growth under limiting substrate.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number27
JournalBMC Systems Biology
StatePublished - 25 Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank all of our group members for fruitful comments and discussions. This work was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) /ERC Grant agreement n° 249919, and the Israel Science Foundation.


  • Bacterial growth
  • Gene expression
  • Monod law
  • Nitrogen assimilation
  • Nutrient limitation


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